Leake Street Arches: Exploring the Unique Waterloo Graffiti Tunnel

Leake Street Arches
Leake Street Arches
Leake Street Arches

Are you a fan of street art? We are; we love a bit of street art. Do you love exploring hidden corners of a city? We do! If so, you need to visit the Leake Street Arches in London. This unique location is a haven for urban art enthusiasts and explorers alike. From the vibrant murals to the buzzing atmosphere, there’s something to capture your interest in the tunnel, so read on to discover the Leake Street Arches.

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The entrance to Banksy Tunnel

Leake Street Arches

What are the Leake Street Arches?

The Leake Street Arches are a series of railway arches located in the Waterloo district of London, just a stone’s throw away from Waterloo Station. The arches are now regarded as a public art gallery, despite being owned by National Rail. Interestingly, it’s usually illegal to graffiti on public property, but in the graffiti tunnel, it’s legal and promoted, provided you follow the rules.

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The arch you want is the main thoroughfare that’s around 170 metres long and, as you’ll discover, barely has a spare square inch that hasn’t been painted. It’s quite the place and a pretty unique destination to visit in London.

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The arches are also known by a couple of other names. You might know them as the Waterloo Graffiti Tunnel or Banksy Tunnel, and we’ll tell you why shortly.

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The Waterloo Graffiti Tunnel is close to Roupell Street, which is worth a visit if you’re in the area. Each location will consume a manageable amount of time, like ten or fifteen minutes. Still, both have a unique character and one you should experience if you’re a tourist or a Londoner. And just down the road is the Imperial War Museum, which is also worth a visit. The IWM will absorb more of your time than the other two, so allow more time for a decent visit.

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Leake Street and Banksy Tunnel History

It all started in 2008 with a guy called Banksy, hence why it’s known as Banksy Tunnel. You know, the guy who graffitis on the side of buildings and adds hundreds of thousands of pounds to the value of it. Banksy, if you’re reading, we have a place we could do with a bit of graffiti on.

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It’s a lie, though; it didn’t all start there. There graffiti did, but not the arches. Ha! Before the 1950s, Leake Street was known as York Street and got its latest name from a chap named Dr John Leake, a physician who created General Lying-In Hospital, one of Britain’s first maternity hospitals.

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These arches were built in the 19th century and used as storage spaces for goods transported by trains. Roll forward a few years, and Eurostar owned the land when the Eurostar used to run from Waterloo Station. In 2008, ownership was handed to Network Rail, and the street was pedestrianised. This is where Banksy comes in. He hosted an exhibition in the tunnels called The Cans Festival and invited artists from all over the world to exhibit their work. And the rest is history, as they say.

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What to Expect at the Leake Street Arches

When you visit the Leake Street Arches, you can expect to see an interesting array of street art. The murals are bold and colourful. Because anyone can graffiti in the tunnel, some pieces aren’t particularly remarkable, but some are outstanding. But don’t forget your camera – the art is worth a snap or two and might even make your next Insta-worthy post!

Aside from the art, there are other things to see and do at the Leake Street Arches. You can watch artists at work, grab some food, play some games or soak up the vibrant atmosphere.

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For food, drink and entertainment in Banksy Tunnel, you can head to Draughts London, a bar and kitchen with over 1,000 board games for you to play. Or you could head to The Vaults for immersive theatre and alternative arts and the odd bit of jazz. Or, you could head to Passyunk Avenue, an American dive bar.

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What’s odd about the arches is that they’re vibrant and dark simultaneously. The vibrant paintwork is eye-catching, but the tunnel, as a whole, is pretty dark. Then there’s the smell of spray paint when the artists are at it. Does anyone else like that smell?

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How to Get to Leake Street Arches

The easiest way to get to the graffiti tunnel is by train or tube into Waterloo Station; just a few minutes walk away. If you leave Waterloo Station by exit 1, turn right and follow the path. You will be taken straight to the steps leading down to the end of the arches at the Station Approach Road end of the tunnel. If you’re on York Road (the main road on the river side of the station), head southwest until you hit Leake Street. The graffiti tunnel is just a few metres from the main road. The map and Google Maps link are below to help you navigate.

Leake Street Arches Location & Info

📍 Leake St, London, SE1 8SW

💷 Free

🌍 leakestreetarches.london

🕙 Always open

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How long is the graffiti tunnel in London?

The tunnel itself is around 180 metres long. Leake Street as a whole is about 300 metres.

Is Banksy tunnel worth visiting?

Yes, they are. The Banksy Tunnel is a pretty interesting setting, even by London standards. You can admire the graffiti, get some food or play some games while you’re in the old railway arches. The tunnel isn’t that big and won’t take you that long to explore, but there are plenty of other things to do in the Waterloo area to tie in with your visit to the arches.

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Leake Street Arches and Banksy Tunnel

Waterloo Graffiti Tunnel

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